The virtue of art lies in detachment, in sequestering one object from the embarrassing variety.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Art”
When I began plein air painting about seven years ago, the first lesson I had to learn was to abstract from the visible world that overpowered my vision and intimidated me before my easel. Robert Motherwell wrote that “abstract” comes from a Latin word meaning “to take from”, and that a painter abstracts every time s/he selects an object and reconstructs it on a two-dimensional surface.
When I stepped out of my vehicle at South Fork, Colorado last weekend, I was overwhelmed at the complex beauty of this mountain environment that I have enjoyed for over a decade now. This was the first time I was determined not only to bring along my art supplies, but to give plein air just as much attention as trout fishing.
The first object I selected was a solitary pine tree directly in front of my cabin porch. I sketched it in pencil the first afternoon I was here, and mosquitoes chewed me up as I worked quickly. After several subsequent days of sketching forests and mountain bluffs, I returned to this lone pine and gave it my full attention after lunch today with my friends.
Annie Dillard’s references to the “color patch” in her excellent book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek flooded my consciousness this afternoon as I stared at this tree and attempted to capture the colors threading through the bark and the limbs. Much of what Annie wrote about the “color patch” reminded me of ideas gleaned from Paul Cezanne and Camille Pissarro in the early days of French Impressionism. The longer I stared at this tree bark the more amused I was at recalling Jasper Johns’s statement that an artist paints things that other people look at but never see. It was true that I was indeed seeing the bark of a pine tree for the first time up close in concentrated study. I still have so much to learn.
Looking back over this past week, I can honestly say that I have not been as successful fly fishing in the stream as I’ve been in previous years here, but I’m willing to chalk that up to high waters and very fast currents. I refuse to feel badly about that because I am delighted that I’ve had the finest opportunities for plein air painting, and I’m so glad I took advantage of those opportunities. I feel I have learned a great deal, just as I did recently while spending a week on the island in the Laguna Madre. I’m certain that my studio work will improve as a result.
Thanks for reading.
I paint in order to learn.
I journal when I feel alone.
I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.